The Resurrection of Our Lord, Easter Day - 31 March 2013
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
I Corinthians 15:19-26
St. John 20:1-18
St. Luke 24:1-12
Background: Easter Day
We owe to Easter Day the origination of the modern calendar. Ancient church officials, concerned about determining the actual date of Easter Day pushed the reforms and observations that resulted in the calendar that we use on a daily basis. The date of Christmas is a fixed date, based on the solar calendar, while the date for Easter is not fixed, depending on the lunar calendar. Its attachment to the Hebrew Pesach (Passover) is more than liturgical or theological – determining the dates of these festivals have similar roots. The date of Easter (the first Sunday after the Paschal Full Moon following the March equinox) was determined by the First Council of Nicaea in 325 CE. The celebration is the center of the Easter Cycle, following the days of Lent, which began on Ash Wednesday, the Sunday of the Passion (Palm Sunday), Holy Week, and the Easter Triduum (The Three Days). Following are seven Sundays of Easter, culminating in the Feast of Pentecost (50 Days). The first instance of this festival that we can ascertain is from a sermon preached by Melito of Sardis in the mid-Second-Century. The Eastern Church bases its dating on the Julian Calendar, and thus the Western and Eastern Churches observe different days.
Then Peter began to speak to them: "I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ--he is Lord of all. That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name."
Saint Luke has Saint Peter preach several homilies in the course of his work The Acts of the Apostles. This one seems out of place, given the topic of the surrounding verses, however, Luke seems to want to lift up Peter as an example of what Christians ought to be proclaiming and talking about. The introductory verses attempt to tie the speech to immediate situation, namely the vision at Joppa, and the conversion of Cornelius. Thus Peter speaks to the mission to the Gentiles, and outlines the message that needs to be preached to them. In verse 36 Peter announces the apostolic kerygma – a summation of the life of Jesus and its meaning for those who would follow him. Peter ties this message to the Salvation History that was celebrated in the readings of the Great Vigil of Easter. “You know the message God sent to the people of Israel preaching peace by Jesus Christ.” This message of peace is a sign of the bringer of Good News (cf. Isaiah 52:7), a message that was to be announced to Jerusalem, and now to all the nations. Notice that the witnesses to the Resurrection are chosen, close acquaintances, as it were, with the Jesus who eats and drinks with them. It is this Jesus who sends out the mission that depends upon ancient and new prophets and their message of peace.
Breaking open Acts:
1. How would you summarize the life of Jesus?
2. What elements would you preach to others?
3. Is Jesus’ message a message of peace?
For I am about to create new heavens
and a new earth;
the former things shall not be remembered
or come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever
in what I am creating;
for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy,
and its people as a delight.
I will rejoice in Jerusalem,
and delight in my people;
no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it,
or the cry of distress.
No more shall there be in it
an infant that lives but a few days,
or an old person who does not live out a lifetime;
for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth,
and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed.
They shall build houses and inhabit them;
they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
They shall not build and another inhabit;
they shall not plant and another eat;
for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be,
and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.
They shall not labor in vain,
or bear children for calamity;
for they shall be offspring blessed by the LORD--
and their descendants as well.
Before they call I will answer,
while they are yet speaking I will hear.
The wolf and the lamb shall feed together,
the lion shall eat straw like the ox;
but the serpent-- its food shall be dust!
They shall not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain, says the LORD.
This reading comes from a section of second Isaiah’s writing on the “Salvation of the Remnant”. This theological concept of the few who remain to return from the Exile in Babylon runs throughout the work of the Isaiahs, as well as the work of Micah, Jeremiah, and Zephaniah. Here in this poem the author wants to celebrate new beginnings for the remnant and mentions the notion of creation three times in the text. Unlike the Flood, where the world undergoes destruction in order to see salvation, here the whole of creation is merely “made new.” The Covenant between God and humankind is perfected – a kind of unity is achieved. Isaiah describes this world that is not so dissimilar from the world of our dreams, full of houses, vineyards, and fruit trees. There will be no enemy who will rush in to take these graces away. The scene really takes us back to Eden, where all live in a peaceful harmony. It is not only the gods who live on the holy mountain, but also all the people God has called back.
Breaking open Isaiah:
1. Do you think that you are a part of the remnant?
2. If God could bring you “home”, where would that be?
3. How has God called you back into life?
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24 Confitemini Domino
Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; *
his mercy endures for ever.
Let Israel now proclaim, *
"His mercy endures for ever."
The LORD is my strength and my song, *
and he has become my salvation.
There is a sound of exultation and victory *
in the tents of the righteous:
"The right hand of the LORD has triumphed! *
the right hand of the LORD is exalted!
the right hand of the LORD has triumphed!"
I shall not die, but live, *
and declare the works of the LORD.
The LORD has punished me sorely, *
but he did not hand me over to death.
Open for me the gates of righteousness; *
I will enter them;
I will offer thanks to the LORD.
"This is the gate of the LORD; *
he who is righteous may enter."
I will give thanks to you, for you answered me *
and have become my salvation.
The same stone which the builders rejected *
has become the chief cornerstone.
This is the LORD'S doing, *
and it is marvelous in our eyes.
On this day the LORD has acted; *
we will rejoice and be glad in it.
The initial verses introduce a thanksgiving psalm that has some kind of liturgical use in its background. We have visited this psalm recently in the Liturgy of the Passion, where it comments on both the sufferings that must be had, and the strength of God that accompanies them. Here we are past the sufferings of last Sunday and are well ensconced in the joys of Easter. The theme is well announced: “The Lord has punished me sorely, but he did not hand me over to death.” The paschal mystery is underscored in the verse, “This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes.” Justice is meted out through the sufferings of the one, and death is no longer an option.
Breaking open Psalm 118:
1. Is there something for which you need to give thanks? What?
2. How will you give thanks?
3. What role did God play in this event, thing?
1 Corinthians 15:19-26
If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
Paul seems to address a problem in Corinth, an aversion to the preaching about bodily resurrection. Here we begin to understand not only the stumbling block that this teaching was for the Jews, but also the foolishness that it represented to the Greeks. Coming out of a platonic point of view, the body was not a great thing, but rather an obstacle to the soul. Paul wants to reverse this point of view and he makes certain that we know that it is a zero-sum game. If this is jettisoned, then all preaching and proclamation is in vain. He builds a parallelism between Adam and Christ. Adam is death. Christ is alive, the “first-fruit” of the resurrection, and hope for us all. Death is the final enemy and it has been conquered. We should note here that it is Paul who first writes about the resurrection, in this chapter. He is, oddly enough, a sort of first witness.
Breaking open I Corinthians:
1. What does Easter Day mean to you?
2. What would you preach about on Easter Day?
3. What does Easter preach to you?
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him." Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus' head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.
But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping?" She said to them, "They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him." When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?" Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away." Jesus said to her, "Mary!" She turned and said to him in Hebrew, "Rabbouni!" (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, "Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, `I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'" Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, "I have seen the Lord"; and she told them that he had said these things to her.
In Reginald Fuller’s book The Resurrection Narrative, the author leads us from St. Paul’s account in I Corinthians 15, and then through the simplicity of Mark’s account, the rather more complex accounts in Luke and Matthew, finally to the awesome appearances that make up John’s account. Here in this reading the semi-anonymity of “the women” is gathered into the person of Mary of Magdala. In the background we see Peter and the “other disciple” appear, enter the tomb, and leave the scene (although John allows that the other disciple believed). It is Mary, however, who is the stable character in this scene. She sees the two angels (see Luke), and only reacts with her weeping. This is one of the most moving of the resurrection appearances (although Mark’s stark ending is equally if not more powerful). It is personal and it is experiential. Many commentators talk on the necessity of this subjective experience (which would prove to be more helpful for those who believe in later days) than a more objective “empty tomb” experience. Mary is all emotion and subjectivity, and it is the basis of her belief, flowing from her relationship to Jesus.
Breaking open John:
1. How do you feel about the resurrection of Jesus? What emotions are present as you think about this?
2. How does John depict the men in the scene? Mary?
3. Does faith ever cause you to weep?
On the first day of the week, at early dawn, the women who had come with Jesus from Galilee came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, "Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again." Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.
For commentary on this reading see comments on the Gospel for the Great Vigil of Easter by clicking here.
After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Easter Day:
O God, who for our redemption gave your only-begotten Son to the death of the cross, and by his glorious resurrection delivered us from the power of our enemy: Grant us so to die daily to sin, that we may evermore live with him in the joy of his resurrection; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
O God, who made this most holy night to shine with the glory of the Lord's resurrection: Stir up in your Church that Spirit of adoption which is given to us in Baptism, that we, being renewed both in body and mind, may worship you in sincerity and truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Almighty God, who through your only-begotten Son Jesus Christ overcame death and opened to us the gate of everlasting life: Grant that we, who celebrate with joy the day of the Lord's resurrection, may be raised from the death of sin by your life-giving Spirit; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
All commentary and questions are copyright © 2013 Michael T. Hiller